U.S. lawmakers and pro-family advocates met on Tuesday to address the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on the violence children are exposed to on television.
During the hearings, the representatives urged for more governmental control on what networks can play, and explained the detrimental effects that violence and sexual scenes can have on growing kids.
"For too long we have heard promises to do better .... Instead we have the industry blaming parents for their lack of oversight of children's television viewing. This is cowardly," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) at the "Impact of Media Violence on Children" hearing. "The big media companies have placed a greater emphasis on their corporate short term profits than on long term health and well being of our children."
The Democratic senator also noted that children are exposed to 1,000 murders, rapes and assaults each year on TV. This, he argued, will lead to more aggressive behavior as children mature.
Those in favor of broadcast networks have strongly opposed government regulation of television, however. They explain that such a process would go against free speech rights and limit the quality of programming.
"Given the inherent difficulty of defining violence and drawing lines about what is appropriate, any attempt to regulate the depiction of violence could be found unconstitutional," explained Peter Liguori, president of entertainment for the Fox broadcasting company, at the Senate meeting. "It would have a profound, chilling effect on the creative community's ability to produce authentic programming reflective of the world we live in."
Several psychiatric groups strongly disagree that production companies should have unhindered programs, however, because research has shown a causal link between television programming and increases in children aggression.
"We know exposure to violence is a risk factor," said Jeff McIntyre of the American Psychological Association. "The more a child is exposed to violence ... the more prone they are to committing acts of violence later in life."
Senators and speakers also showed a number of clips at the hearing to show what kind of violence and sexual themes are allowed on television today. Some of the segments shown included rape scenes, more graphic murders than in the past, and torture scenes.
This increase in adult themes concerns many who are worried about their children's well-being.
"In addition to the marked increase in the quantity of violence, we are seeing several other disturbing trends," presented Tim Winter, president of media watchdog the Parents Television Council. "First, the depictions of violence have become far more graphic and more realistic than ever before, thanks in part to enhanced computer graphics employed in television production today. Second, there is an alarming trend for violent scenes to include a sexual element. Rapists, sexual predators and fetishists appear with increasing frequency on prime time programs. Third, we are now seeing the main character – the protagonist the audience is supposed to identify with – as the perpetrator of the most violent acts. And lastly we are seeing more children being depicted as the victims of violence."
In 2000, a television device known as the V-chip was launched. It would allow parents to censor shows that were too mature for their children, and was a way to limit the violence that kids view.
Several reports have indicated that the device does not work effectively, however, because shows are not properly rated or lack the proper content indicators.
Parents are not utilizing it also. Only 15 percent of parents said they used the device, but the majority explained that they either did not know how to use it or did not know it even existed.
Many are arguing that measures such as the V-chip are not enough and that government regulation is a must to protect the younger generation. They have even disputed that such devices encourage increases in television violence.
"[S]peaking of technology, recall that when the V-chip was introduced the television industry denounced it as censorial heresy," added Winter. "That is, they denounced it until they found a way to manipulate what was supposed to be a simple solution for parents. Instead the industry turned the V-chip into a means for even more graphic content while using it as an excuse to violate the broadcast decency law."
Earlier this month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York ruled on a case over decency standards. By a 2-1 vote, judges found that "unscripted" profanity slips would not count as indecency. The case was specifically concerning the use of the "F-word" and the "S-word" during past Billboard Music Awards shown on the FOX network.
"[W]ith the ability to deliver a product directly into every home in America comes a duty to serve the public interest," concluded Winter. "As Commissioner [Michael J.] Copps [of Federal Communications Commission] stated in this very room, the term 'public interest' appears no less than 112 times in the original Communications Act. I ask you, Mr. Chairman, when does hurting children serve the public interest?"